What a difference eight years can make. On Wednesday, all three network morning shows hailed Tuesday’s election victories for Democrats as a “stinging rebuke” to President Trump that he “will likely take personally.” However, after Republicans won the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s races in 2009, NBC, ABC, and CBS were quick to downplay any suggestion that it was a referendum on then-President Obama.
“Stinging Rebuke. A tough election night for President Trump and the GOP. Democrats with key victories in Virginia and New Jersey,” proclaimed co-host Matt Lauer as he opened NBC’s Today show. Moments later, he touted “voters giving Democrats their first major victories of the Trump era.”
In the report that followed, correspondent Kristen Welker followed the same talking points: “It was a very big night for Democrats....This is voters’ first strong rebuke of President Trump, who is distancing himself from the losses.”
Compare that to how then-Meet the Press moderator David Gregory reacted to Republican Bob McDonnell winning the Virginia governorship on the November 4, 2009 Today:
MEREDITH VIEIRA: Republicans are saying this morning it is a repudiation of the President's administration. Fair statement or overstated?
GREGORY: Well probably unfair when it comes to a repudiation of the President himself, because his own approval numbers in New Jersey and Virginia are still quite high. But as Chuck points out, it's the Obama coalition that was so successful in 2008 that did not show up. Independent voters, younger voters, African-American voters. That was part of a unique coalition that he put together for his presidency. This anti-incumbency mood is significant. It says that, that change message that Obama carried on to victory is still holding true, but now it's being used against Democratic incumbents.
It was just an “anti-incumbency mood” back then, not an anti-Obama sentiment.
<<< Please support MRC's NewsBusters team with a tax-deductible contribution today. >>>
Viera went on to distract from the big Democratic losses by focusing on an obscure congressional special election in upstate New York as evidence of “the dissension within the Republican Party between the moderates and those that are, are far more conservative.” Gregory agreed that there was “a big fight in the Republican Party.”
At the top of ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday, co-host George Stephanopoulos eagerly announced: “...on this first anniversary of President Trump’s stunning election victory, it’s the Democrats who are celebrating now. Big victories last night in the Virginia and New Jersey races for governor, with exit polls showing voters wanted to send a message to President Trump.”
In a report minutes later, correspondent Tom Llamas declared: “A big win for Democrats and a blow to Republicans, a loss the President will likely take personally.” He later emphasized: “We also should mention, Robin, 30% of voters told us in exit polls they came out to vote yesterday to show opposition to Trump. So the President clearly played a role in this election...”
Discussing the election results following the report from Llamas, political analyst Matthew Dowd framed the outcome as “not only a rejection of Trump, it was basically a rejection of what he stood for.”
Turning back the clock to the November 4, 2009 edition of GMA, then-Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper immediately cited the Obama White House rejecting any notion of GOP wins being a referendum on the President: “Well, the White House says they’re not surprised by the victories of the Republicans in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey. They say all along they’ve said these elections were not referenda on President Obama and the exit polling indicates that Obama was not a factor for most voters in those states.”
Like on the Today show, the focus then shifted to the New York special election:
White House officials say that they are heartened by what happened in that special House race in upstate New York. New York 23, where as you pointed out in the introduction, conservative activists and the tea party crowd were complaining that the Republican nominee was insufficiently conservative and basically she was chased out and the Conservative Party nominee lost to the Democrat last night. The White House hopes that that that's a template for what happens all over the country and pointing to some for Senate seats in Florida and Illinois.
On Tuesday’s CBS This Morning, co-host Charlie Rose promoted: “One third of Virginians in a CBS News exit poll said they voted to oppose the President. That is twice as many who voted to support him.” Correspondent Chip Reid was giddy: “Virginia Republicans suffered a good old-fashioned drubbing last night. This was a referendum on guns and health care. Republican Ed Gillespie dipped into the Trump playbook and it appears to have backfired.”
He later told viewers: “CBS News Elections Director Anthony Salvanto says at 57 percent disapproval among Virginians, President Trump’s unpopularity hurt Gillespie.”
On the November 4, 2009 CBS Early Show, then-correspondent Jeff Glor (now the newly named anchor of CBS Evening News) downplayed Republican victories at the time: “The gubernatorial races have been closely watched as a potential referendum on the President and his policies. But in exit polls, most voters Obama was not a factor in their decision.”
Before the polls even closed on election night in 2009, then-Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer took to CBS Evening News to preemptively brush aside the argument that Barack Obama would be responsible for Democratic defeats:
I don't know about that. I mean, he campaigned in both states for the Democrats, but I'm not one who thinks that local candidates are ever helped out much by a national candidate who comes in. These two races -- in both Virginia and New Jersey -- were so much about local issues, about property taxes, about the economy, that I don't think they had much to do with anything but New Jersey and Virginia, quite frankly.
When there’s a Republican in the White House, the media rush to connect him to any defeat suffered by party candidates in an election. However, when a Democrat is president, all politics suddenly become local for the national press.
Here are excerpts of the November 8, 2017 network coverage:
7:00 AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: Stinging Rebuke. A tough election night for President Trump and the GOP. Democrats with key victories in Virginia and New Jersey. The message sent by voters and who the President is pointing fingers at this morning.
7:02 AM ET SEGMENT:
MATT LAUER: Let us start with a busy news morning. And we’ll start with voters giving Democrats their first major victories of the Trump era. NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker has the latest and the reaction from the President. Kristen, good morning to you.
KRISTEN WELKER: Hi, Matt, good morning to you. It was a very big night for Democrats. From races for governor to state legislature, they secured a number of victories. All eyes were on Virginia, perhaps the biggest political prize. This is voters’ first strong rebuke of President Trump, who is distancing himself from the losses. And it all comes exactly one year after the President was first elected.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Dems Win Big on Election Day; Take NJ & VA Governorships as Trump Reacts]
Democrat Ralph Northam beating former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie in a contentious race for Virginia governor. Northam’s win fueling a big night for Democrats. The Army veteran and doctor making a clear reference to President Trump without ever mentioning him by name.
RALPH NORTHAM: Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness. That we will not condone hatred and bigotry. And to end the politics that to have torn this country apart.
WELKER: Traveling in South Korea, the President, who endorsed Gillespie but did not campaign for him, offering this criticism of the campaign overnight, tweeting, “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”
In New Jersey, another big win for Democrats. Former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy defeating state Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno.
PHIL MURPHY: Starting here, starting now, and starting with us, New Jersey is coming back!
WELKER: Guadagno unable to distance herself from Chris Christie, the unpopular Republican governor who was an early supporter of Trump, and known for his own combative style.
Good Morning America
7:03 AM ET TEASE:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Next this morning, on this first anniversary of President Trump’s stunning election victory, it’s the Democrats who are celebrating now. Big victories last night in the Virginia and New Jersey races for governor, with exit polls showing voters wanted to send a message to President Trump.
7:06 AM ET SEGMENT:
ROBIN ROBERTS: And now more on the election results back here at home, coming in overnight, Democrats seeing a lot of success, you know, coming out on top in that closely watched race for governor in Virginia. Our Chief National Correspondent Tom Llamas is there in Fairfax, he was up all night tracking this and what these results also mean for President Trump. Good morning, Tom.
TOM LLAMAS: Robin, good morning to you. A big win for Democrats and a blow to Republicans, a loss the President will likely take personally. Let’s start here in Virginia. Dr. Ralph Northam with a decisive victory, this race was called early. He won by nearly double digits. Now so many people were watching this race because Virginia is a swing state. It’s also the only southern state that President Trump didn’t win.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Democrats Win Big on Election Night; Northam Prevails in Virginia Governor’s Race]
Now, President Trump was very active on Twitter campaigning for the Republican here, Ed Gillespie, even recording a robo call yesterday for him. But Gillespie chose to never physically campaign with the President. And last night, when Gillespie lost, the President tweeted this out from South Korea, “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.” Now that’s not exactly correct, because Gillespie did adopt some of the Trump policies, he just chose to never physically appear with the President here. So the President taking a parting shot there.
We also should mention, Robin, 30% of voters told us in exit polls they came out to vote yesterday to show opposition to Trump. So the President clearly played a role in this election, Robin.
CBS This Morning
7:06 AM ET
CHARLIE ROSE: Democrats are celebrating wins in two important elections for governor. The races were watched closely by the national parties. In New Jersey, Phil Murphy beat Republican Kim Guadagno 56 to 42 percent. In Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam beat Ed Gillespie 54 to 45 percent. President Trump reacted, saying the Republican, quote, “did not embrace me or what I stand for.” One third of Virginians in a CBS News exit poll said they voted to oppose the President. That is twice as many who voted to support him. Chip Reid is in Washington with how the results are boosting Democrats around the country. Chip, good morning.
CHIP REID: Well, good morning. Virginia Republicans suffered a good old-fashioned drubbing last night. This was a referendum on guns and health care. Republican Ed Gillespie dipped into the Trump playbook and it appears to have backfired. Democrat Ralph Northam won more votes than any previous Virginia governor. Virginia's next governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, pulled off a commanding victory.
RALPH NORTHAM: It's going to take a doctor to heal our differences.
REID: Northam, a pediatrician and Army veteran, emphasized issues that matter to Virginians. CBS News exit polling showed health care topped the list of issues in that state.
ED GILLESPIE: We all love the commonwealth of Virginia.
REID: Ed Gillespie stood on firm footing with the GOP as former chairman of the Republican National Committee and former counselor to George W. Bush, but during the campaign he leaned on President Trump’s agenda, releasing TV ads that cast his opponent as soft on immigration.
NARRATOR [GILLESPIE AD]: Increasing threat of gangs like MS-13.
REID: The President called Northam weak on crime and said in a tweet Tuesday, “Elect Gillespie and crime will be gone.” But CBS News Elections Director Anthony Salvanto says at 57 percent disapproval among Virginians, President Trump's unpopularity hurt Gillespie.